S. Korea under Chun: democracy limited, but most people satisfied
Seoul — When President Chun Doo Hwan's Democratic Justice party won the South Korean general elections March 25, it was as if Mr. Chun had triumphantly snapped the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle into place; the completed picture was, of course, his own portrait.
With his own landslide in last month's presidential election and with his party holding a clear overall parliamentary majority, President Chun seems set to hold the Korean political stage for the next seven years.
All but two of the 92 Democratic Justice Party (DJP) candidates were elected to the new 276-seat parliament, and since the proportional representation system gives the winning party an additional 61 seats, the DJP will hold 151 seats altogether.
The nearest rival, the opposition Democratic Korea Party, had 57 candidates from the constituencies elected, which will give them a total of 81 parliamentary seats. Most of the remaining seats will go to independents and former supporters of Park Chung Hee, who are of the Korea National Party.
But for the first time since former President Park's 1961 coup, the Socialists will have two seats.
Mr Chun's transmogrification from unknown soldier to supreme leader has been completed. No one had heard of him when former president park was assassinated in October 1979; but when he was inaugurated last month, a leading Korean poet described him as "our wise and trusted helmsman" -- a phrase associated with Mao Tse-tung.
Over the past year, President Chun has purged almost every sector of Korean society, including the Army, the Central Intelligence Agency, the press, the civil service, and the educational, religious, political, and business communities. he used brute force to put down an uprising in the southwestern town of Kwangju.
It seems reasonable to suppose that individuals who suffered under these harsh measures are not among his supporters today. But the election results show that the bulk of the country is solidly behind the New president.
In recent months a massive campaign has been mounted to soften the ex-soldier's image. He has offered amnesty to many political and other prisoners, has allowed new political parties and presidential and general elections, and has lifted martial law.
The Korean press has told of his childhood, when he tended the family's cows and stood up to the local bully. As a young man at the Korean military academy, he fell in love with the commandant's daughter but considered himself too poor to ask her to marry him. Fortunately, she asked him instead.
Unlike many korean men who leave their wives at home, preferring the company of courtesans, President Chun usually demands that his officers bring their wives to social functions. The local media have spewed out countless tributes to both the President and his First Lady.
Sun sycophantic press coverage has had a negative effect in some circles. But among the less politically aware majority, it has achieve a very positive success. A driver said he had "new feelings" for the president. "He is very wise, polite to everyone, diligent, and brave." A young office worker said she though him above all "a good family man."
In the southwestern province of Chollanamdo there still seems to be some antipathy toward the Chun regime. An american resident said recently, "The people in Kwangju have not forgotten how badly they were treated by the Army last May," and recent reports suggest there are still pockets of antigovernment feeling in the region.
The President has not entirely won over the student population, either. In a recent demonstration involving about 300 Seoul National University students, his government was described as "fascist."
They and the main political opposition continue to call for more liberal democracy but in South Korea's recent history, liberalism has come to be associated with disorder in the minds of many koreans. For the majority domestic stability and material progress are more important than ideological freedom.
The foreign business community generally shares that feeling. As one Western banker put it, "We don't frankly care which government is in power, so long as it maintains law and order; riots are bad for business."
Although the Army is officially neutral and nonpolitical, it is generally considered to be the most powerful force in the country. "No one can rule without its support, which makes for a rather precarious equilibrium," said a Korean journalist.
withtin the Army, the man who is generally tipped as the most influential and the most likely to succeed mr. Chun as president, is Gen. Noh Taw Woo, the defense security commander. There is also a small coterie of generals who appear to form a shadowy power base behind the President. But they remain firmly in the background.
President Chun has won the respect of many koreans by demonstrating a strong paternal care for his country and his people. There seems no reason why he will not continue to ensure a measure of democracy. But warnings to those who threaten to upset the apple cart have been frequent. Mr. Chun has already demonstrated that the presidential bite is worse than the bark.